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What is Box Breathing?
wellness / mental health
What is Box Breathing?
by BetterSleep
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They say breathing is one of the most important things we do. Most of us don’t think about it, but our breath is vital to our survival. Proper breathing not only helps us stay alive, but it also has some amazing benefits for our mind and body.

If you've heard of mindfulness or meditation, you've probably heard of box breathing. Box breathing also called square breathing or four-square breathing is a simple but powerful breathing exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime.

In this post, we'll explore what box breathing is, how to do it, and some of the benefits you may experience from practicing this simple but powerful mindfulness tool.

Box Breathing: A Quick Intro

Have you ever noticed that when you're stressed, your breath gets shallow and fast? Or that when you're calm and relaxed, your breath is deep and slow?

Your breath is a great indicator of your state of mind. We often don't realize it, but the way we breathe can have a big impact on our mood and overall sense of well-being.

The box breathing technique can help you regulate your breath and find a sense of calm. This breathing exercise is also sometimes called square breathing or four-square breathing.

Here's the basic idea: you breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and then hold your breath again for a count of four. You repeat this cycle four times.

The science behind box breathing

Your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the body, is stimulated when you breathe slowly and deeply. This means that deep, slow breathing can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Meanwhile, your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, is activated when you breathe quickly and shallowly. This means that shallow, fast breathing can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress.

So, by slowing down your breath and taking deep breaths, you can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote a sense of calm.

You may be curious as to why the count is always four. There's actually no scientific reason for it — it's just a helpful way to keep track of your breath and make sure you're breathing slowly and deeply.

How do we know box breathing is effective?

Research has shown that slow, deep breathing techniques and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and boost mood. Studies have even found that diaphragmatic breathing like box breathing can help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Box breathing has been used for centuries by yogis and monks as a way to find inner peace and calm. In recent years, the benefits of box breathing have gained popularity for many people who are looking to reduce stress and improve their overall health. For example, military personnel uses tactical breathing (a variation of box breathing) to help cope with stressful situations.

How to Do Box Breathing

Now that you know a little bit about what box breathing is and why it's so effective, let's talk about how to do it.

Remember, the basic idea is simple: you breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and then hold your breath again for a count of four. You repeat this cycle four times.

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1. Find a comfortable seat.

You can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, or you can cross-legged on the floor. If you're sitting in a chair, make sure your spine is straight and your shoulders are relaxed. If you're on the floor, you can sit up tall or lie down on your back.

2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

As you inhale slowly, feel your belly rise. As you exhale, feel your belly fall.

3. Breathe in for a count of four.

Start by breathing in slowly and deeply through your nose. Fill up your belly first, and then let the breath rise into your chest.

4. Hold your breath for a count of four.

Once you've taken a deep breath in, hold it for a count of four. Try not to hold your breath too tightly — simply let the air stay in your lungs.

5. Breathe out for a count of four.

Slowly exhale through your nose, letting the breath fall first from your chest and then your belly. Think about drawing all the air out completely so that your lungs are empty when you finish exhaling.

6. Hold your breath for a count of four.

After you exhale, hold your breath for a count of four. Again, try not to hold your breath too tightly. Let it be a natural pause.

7. Repeat the cycle four times.

Once you've completed the full cycle of inhaling, holding your breath, and exhaling, start again from the beginning. Repeat the cycle four times in total.

When you're first starting out, it may be helpful to count out loud as you breathe. For example, you could say "inhale one, two, three, four" as you breathe in, and then "exhale one, two, three, four" as you breathe out. Once you get the hang of it, you can breathe silently.

It's also important to find a breathing rhythm that feels comfortable for you. For some people, counting to four is too slow, while for others it's too fast. The important thing is that you're breathing slowly and deeply. If counting to four is too slow, try counting to three or even two. If it's too fast, try counting to five or six. Experiment until you find your own rhythm.

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Tips for Making Box Breathing a Part of Your Life

When you're just starting out, box breathing can feel a bit awkward and unnatural. But with a little practice, it can become second nature. Here are a few tips to help you make box breathing a part of your life:

Practice regularly.

The more you practice box breathing, the easier it will become. Just like with any skill, the key is to practice regularly. Try to do it at least once a day, and eventually, you'll find that you can do it without even thinking about it.

Make it a habit.

One of the best ways to make sure you keep up with your box breathing practice is to make it a habit. Choose a time of day when you're likely to have a few minutes to yourself and make it a part of your daily routine. For example, you could do it first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or right before you go to bed.

Find a comfortable place.

Where you practice box breathing can also make a difference. Choose a place where you feel comfortable and won't be interrupted. If you're at home, you might want to practice in your bedroom or in a quiet corner of the house. If you're at work, you could try doing it in your office or in the break room.

Start small.

If you're new to box breathing, it's best to start with shorter sessions and work your way up. When you first start out, try doing it for one minute at a time. Don't worry if you can't do it for the full minute at first. Just focus on breathing slowly and deeply, and eventually, you'll be able to do it for the full minute.

Don't sweat it.

Finally, don't worry if you can't do it perfectly. There's no right or wrong way to do box breathing, as long as you're breathing slowly and deeply. If you make a mistake, just start over and focus on your breath.

Box Breathing for Better Sleep

If you are struggling with insomnia or other sleep issues, box breathing can be a helpful tool. Slow, deep breathing can help to relax your body and mind, and counting can help to focus your thoughts and clear your mind of any racing thoughts.

To use box breathing for sleep, start by lying in bed in a comfortable position. Then, follow the steps above, focusing on your breath and counting slowly as you inhale and exhale. If your mind starts to wander, just focus on your breath and start counting again.

You can combine box breathing with other relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or visualization. Just make sure to focus on your breath and not on the other technique. You may also use relaxing music or white noise to help you focus on your breath and block out any distractions.

BetterSleep features a wide library of audio tracks specifically designed for sleep. You can try out different tracks and find the ones that work best for you. Some tracks feature relaxing music, while others feature white noise or nature sounds.

If you're struggling with insomnia, it's important to see a doctor or sleep specialist. Box breathing can be a helpful tool, but it's not a replacement for treatment. If you find that your sleep problems are getting worse, make sure to talk to a doctor.

Final Thoughts

Box breathing can be a helpful tool for managing stress and anxiety, and it can also be used to improve sleep. Just remember to start with shorter sessions and work your way up, and focus on your breath throughout the exercise. With a little practice, you'll be able to make box breathing a part of your life.

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